Category Archives Litigation

A California jury has reportedly awarded an organic farm in Santa Cruz $1 million for the contamination of its edible herbs by pesticides applied on neighboring farms. Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo v. W. Farm Serv., Inc., No. ___ (Cal. Dist. Ct., Santa Cruz Cty., September 29, 2008). Pesticide drift from aerial spraying allegedly made it impossible for the plaintiff to sell large portions of its sage, rosemary and dill harvests in 2006 and 2007. The defendant, a pesticide application company, has reportedly indicated that it intends to appeal the verdict; a spokesperson was quoted as saying that the verdict “raises concerns about future use of organophosphates in California.” The company apparently claims that it followed all product labeling standards and county agricultural permits when it applied the pesticides and that decisions about the uses and risks of pesticides should rest in the hands of government regulators and not juries. The company also…

The U.S. Supreme Court has reportedly asked the solicitor general to file a brief discussing the federal preemption issues in case filed against retailers for failing to inform California consumers that the farm-raised salmon they sold was artificially colored. Albertson’s, Inc. v. Kanter, No. 07-1327 (U.S.). FDA regulations allow salmon farmers to augment the normally grayish pigment of farm-raised fish with chemicals that turn the flesh pink like that of wild salmon. Federal law also requires that the use of coloring be indicated on product labels, but does not allow individuals to enforce the law through litigation. The plaintiffs filed several lawsuits in state court alleging that the grocery stores violated federal and state food and drug labeling laws by failing to provide this information to consumers. A trial court and intermediate appellate court found that federal law preempted the claims, but the California Supreme Court ruled in plaintiffs’ favor. Further…

The WTO has reportedly issued a ruling supporting the United States in its decision to impose duties on European imports in response to a ban on beef from animals treated with growth hormones. According to the U.S. trade representative, “The Appellate Body’s report confirms that WTO members that are subject to additional duties for failing to bring themselves into compliance with the WTO’s rulings and recommendations must do more than simply claim compliance in order to obtain relief from such duties.” The ruling ends an EU appeal from a March 2008 ruling by the trade organization finding that the EU failed to justify its ban on these imports and allowing the United States and Canada to impose duties on Roquefort cheese, truffles and chocolates because the EU’s practice violated international trade rules. The WTO Appellate Body apparently reversed that part of the March ruling which criticized the United States for…

A California resident has filed suit against ConAgra Foods, Inc., alleging that it falsely advertises and labels its Healthy Choice® pasta sauce products as “100% Natural,” “Natural” or “All Natural” despite using high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to make them. Lockwood v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., No. 08-4151 (N.D. Cal., filed September 2, 2008). Claiming that “[t]he complicated process used to create HFCS does not occur in nature” and that “it is misleading to consumers to label products that contain HFCS as ‘Natural,’” the plaintiff seeks to certify a class of “All persons in California who purchased any of Defendant’s pasta sauce products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup, yet marketed, advertised or labeled as being ‘All Natural’, ‘Natural’ or ‘100% Natural’ during the ‘Class Period.’” According to the plaintiff, a number of common questions predominate over individual issues, including whether defendant misrepresented its ingredients, mislabeled its products or engaged in unfair and…

According to a news source, a federal court in New Jersey has dismissed claims that the manufacturer of a beverage containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) deceived the public by promoting the product as “all natural.” The court apparently based its ruling on federal preemption, leaving it to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to define the terms “natural” and “all natural.” U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper reportedly stated, “This court will not determine that which the FDA, with all of its scientific expertise, has yet to determine, namely how the terms ‘natural’ and ‘all natural’ should be defined and whether either may be used on the label of a beverage containing HFCS. Instead, this court will allow the FDA, which has already set forth specific requirements for what must be included on beverage labels, to decide whether such a determination is necessary and warranted.” The ruling specifically applies to Snapple®…

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has reportedly dropped plans to sue Cadbury-Schweppes for marketing 7UP® as “all natural” despite the presence of high-fructose corn syrup in its product. The beverage company apparently issued a statement indicating that it will highlight those ingredients “for which there is no debate” over whether they are natural. CSPI warned the company in May 2006 that it was planning to file a lawsuit and had been in negotiations over the matter. CSPI Litigation Director Steve Gardner was quoted as saying, “We look forward to seeing exactly which words the company uses to describe its ingredients on labels and on marketing materials, but trust they won’t imply that high-fructose corn syrup is ‘natural.’” CSPI has also announced that the group “may file previously announced lawsuits against Coca-Cola and Nestlé (over Enviga, a deceptively labeled green tea drink positioned as a weight-loss aid) and…

Identifying themselves as “observant Jews,” three named plaintiffs have filed a putative class action lawsuit against a hot dog producer in Cook County, Illinois, alleging that its 100 percent beef claims breach an express warranty, violate the Uniform Commercial Code’s provisions on conforming goods, and constitute consumer and common law fraud. Gershengorin v. Vienna Beef, Ltd., No. 06CH25277 (Cook County, Illinois, filed Nov. 20, 2006). According to the complaint, “Vienna Beef knowingly omits informing the consumer public that Vienna Beef is using pork intestine as casing for its Natural Casing Beef hotdogs.” The plaintiffs, who claim they have been injured emotionally by the company’s fraudulent advertising campaign, are bringing the action on behalf of all U.S. residents who consumed a “Natural Casing Beef” hot dog manufactured by Vienna Beef that actually contained pork intestine casing. The complaint asserts that questions of law and fact common to the class members include…

After a two-month trial, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Robert Dondero late last week ruled that California cannot require the manufacturers of Chicken of the Sea, StarKist and Bumble Bee tuna to warn consumers that their products contain mercury and mercury compounds. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed the lawsuit in June 2004 under the state antitoxics law Proposition 65, which requires businesses to warn the public about exposure to chemicals “known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.” The law does not apply to chemicals that occur naturally in food. Press reports indicate the court ruled that (i) Prop. 65 is preempted by a March 2004 Food and Drug Administration joint consumer advisory on methylmercury in fish and shellfish; (ii) low levels of mercury contained in tuna products do not merit warnings; and (iii) tuna is exempt from Prop. 65 requirements because mercury in fish is naturally occurring.…

Since May 2002 California plaintiffs have reportedly brought enforcement actions against a number of food manufacturers and fast food restaurants claiming that because carcinogens or reproductive toxicants are contained in their products, they are required to provide public warnings under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. This law, also known as Proposition 65 (Prop.65), was approved by state voters in November 1986. It requires the governor to publish a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harms. Companies selling products in California must provide warnings if such substances are contained in their products. Private citizens are empowered under the Act to sue alleged violators to enjoin future violations and obtain civil penalties for past violations. Plaintiffs in American Environmental Safety Institute v. Mars, Inc., No. BC273433 (Cal. Super. Ct., Los Angeles Cty., filed May 8, 2002), allege that chocolate contains the…

New York attorney Samuel Hirsch has filed lawsuits against fast food companies on behalf of two classes of plaintiffs who are allegedly obese and have developed diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol intake, and other adverse health effects from consuming defendants’ products. Barber v. McDonald’s Corp., No. 23145/2002 (N.Y., Super. Ct., filed July 24, 2002); Pelman v. McDonald’s Corp., No. 24809/2002 (N.Y. Super. Ct., filed August 22, 2002). The cases involve a class of adult plaintiffs and a class of children. The complaints are being brought on theories of (i) unfair and deceptive practices, (ii) failure to warn, and (iii) negligence in selling products high in fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol, and in marketing to children, in marketing addictive products, and in enticing plaintiffs to consume larger portions in “value meals” and “meal combos.” According to news sources, the named adult plaintiff, Caesar Barber, 56, did not realize that consumption…

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